$11M Awarded to Injured Client of The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV
Here are the facts: our client, Norma, claimed that she entered the intersection from a left-turn lane on a green light – she was southbound and was going to turn east. When the light turned red, she maneuvered to complete her turn. The defendant, who was going north, claimed he had a green light and our client turned directly in front of him and other northbound traffic. The defendant T-boned our client’s car and her vehicle rolled over.
No police photos, no witnesses. The investigating officer never talked to our client and didn’t do measurements correctly. The only statement taken was the defendant’s and, based on that, the officer put all liability on Norma.
How Our Client Was Injured
During the rollover, our client’s left hand was degloved; all fingers were displaced or fractured. She was transferred to UCLA Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with two brain bleeds, the degloved hand, and a fracture of the C6 superior articular process. The brain bleeds resolved without surgery. She wore a hard collar for two months until the fracture healed. She underwent six surgeries to try to save her hand, including a finger and partial thumb amputation. Despite doctors’ best efforts, the hand was non-functional and was horrifically deformed.
How We Handled the Case
Before the lawsuit was filed, we made two demands for the policy limits – $15K. The insurer, Legacy Pacific Insurance Services, rejected them. About five months after the case was filed, the defense made a 998 offer to settle for the policy limits. The offer was allowed to lapse. They never offered anything over the policy limits.
The defendant testified at a deposition that, at the time of the crash, he was working as a general manager at a fast-food chain in Inglewood. He claimed that he left his restaurant during his shift to go to another restaurant to pick up some child custody papers. We were unable to show that the defendant’s trip was anything other than a personal errand. However, we did find out that he violated store policy by leaving while on shift.
We worked with four expert witnesses in neurology, hand surgery, spinal surgery, and accident reconstruction. The defense had experts as well, but due to the defendants’ laziness, The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV deposed their experts but they forgot to depo ours. About a month before trial, they woke up and did multiple ex partes to get a depo, but the judge denied all of them.
How We Conducted the Trial
Because there was no way to prove what color the light was at the time of the crash and there were no witnesses, we concentrated on creating a villain (the defendant) and a hero (the plaintiff).
We put the defendant up first. He couldn’t keep his story straight about his speed, whether he had braked, etc. At a deposition, he had testified with a translator, but testified in English at trial. He said that inconsistencies between his depo and trial testimony were the result of him “misunderstanding,” even in Spanish. He testified that Norma’s car was “fine” after the crash – we put up photos showing how it had been completely totaled. He claimed there was a witness to the crash, but he never told the police and the witness’ phone number never worked.
The defendant also testified at depo and on the stand that he could leave work whenever and for as long he wanted and that his trip started at a certain time and lasted for over an hour. The next day, we brought in a fellow employee who impeached him on all of the timing. We also brought his boss, who testified that there were strict policies about leaving while on shift, that it was a firable offense, that she would have fired him if she’d known about this incident, and that she fired him later for multiple incidents of missing cash, missing inventory, and timecard fraud.
Our client testified and did much better than we anticipated. She was very hard to work with – her brain injury made her obstreperous, stubborn, and impulsive, so she tended to go off on tangents and was resistant to taking instruction. With extensive prep, we got her to keep it together for depo and trial testimony. At trial, we focused on her history of working (i.e., service for others), her long history in the neighborhood, her adherence to routine. We kept her at counsel table with us every day of trial, she attended every minute, and she wobbled as she stood for the jury when they entered and exited. On cross, the defense tried to confuse her about her position in the intersection and hammered at her about the original “green light” discovery response. She stuck firmly to the truth, going over the sequence of the lights again and again, and testifying that she had no recollection of having done the written response.
The jury took about 3.5 hours to deliberate. They came back with a 70/30 comparative liability verdict in our favor. We found out later that many of the jurors believed that Norma had 0% liability, but felt that there was no way to totally back up that belief, so they settled on 30%. Two jurors, though, held to their vote that Norma had 0% liability.
Then, we had each of the damages experts testify to Norma’s future life-care needs and created a plan on the go as they testified – on butcher paper in front of the jury. We then typed a clean version and had it admitted as an exhibit.
For closing, we focused on Norma’s loss of identity and independence. When she’d been admitted to UCLA, they didn’t have ID for her, so they called her Bertha Trauma – a Jane Doe designation randomly created by their computer system. We kept that name up on the screen, in opening and throughout the expert testimony and again in closing, and told the jury that Norma had disappeared, leaving Bertha Trauma. We used the beautiful photos from the family from before the crash, so that we could illustrate what Norma was like before – healthy, fashion-conscious, family-oriented, extroverted, talkative, and always happy – versus the deformities, paranoia, debilities, and isolation from which she suffers now.
The jury deliberated for about 2.5 hours. They awarded Norma the full future meds that we asked for. The jury poll was 9/12 for past and future pain and suffering – three of the original male jurors were all a little lower than the others (but over $1 million on both questions). Future pain and suffering ranged from $1.7 million to close to $7 million. The higher jurors came down a little to get to 9 votes. They gave $2.5 million for past pain and suffering and $5 million for future pain and suffering.
In total, our client was awarded $11 million in total damages. A great victory for her, and for The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV. We were glad to help.